Olympic medallist Simon van Velthooven has cut short his competitive sojourn in Japan to line-up in the first Rio 2016 qualifying event in Cambridge starting tomorrow.
The Manawatu rider, who has been competing in the prestigious Japan Keirin League, was initially not expected to be available for the Avanti BikeNZ Cup competition, a three-day UCI-sanctioned competition which is the first opportunity to earn qualifying points for the Rio Olympics.
However the London Olympic bronze medallist wants to now focus his attentions back home, based with the rest of the high performance squad at the Avantidrome.
With his Japan racing experience behind him, van Velthooven believes it’s time to knuckle down to key training at the centralised base in Cambridge.
“This facility is outstanding. While I have enjoyed the travelling, the racing and the whole experience in Japan, it is now time to get serious about Rio,” van Velthooven said.
“We are so fortunate to have this amazing facility here and I know the Australians will be envious when they see it this week.”
The Avanti BikeNZ Cup and BikeNZ Classic is a three-day competition with sprint and keirin competition, the omnium and also bunch racing involving riders from Australia, Malaysia, USA and Canada.
Van Velthooven said he did not produce his best at the Commonwealth Games, a combination of an injury and his preparation while racing in Japan.
“Now it is time for me to base myself here with the rest of the squad and put my full focus on making the team sprint for Rio.”
Van Velthooven was in the team that finished fifth in London but was not in the combination that won the world championship and the gold medal in Glasgow this year, focussing more on keirin racing.
Most of the Glasgow medallists will be in action in Cambridge this week to take on the international competition, as well as press claims for next month’s Oceania Championships in Adelaide.
While the riders enjoyed record success at the Commonwealth Games, BikeNZ High Performance Director, Mark Elliott said the focus has quickly shifted.
“We’ve enjoyed an excellent Commonwealth Games campaign but as that chapter closes, we now open a new door towards the Rio Olympics. This event is the first stepping stone, which will determine selection to what will be an important Oceania Championship next month, and performances there lead to the World Championships and ultimately to Rio.
“It all starts in Cambridge this week.
“There will be real competition within our camp for ultimate selection for Rio. That is what will drive our riders every day in training from now and will be a real motivation at the BikeNZ Classic and BikeNZ Club competitions.”
The three-day meet comprises mainly sprint competitions over individual sprint and keirin with an omnium contest on the first two days of the BikeNZ Classic. There is also endurance racing throughout with points, scratch and Madison competition.
The focus will likely fall on members of the world and Commonwealth champion team sprint - Ethan Mitchell, Sam Webster and Eddie Dawkins – who compete against Glasgow time trial medallists Matt Archibald and van Velthooven.
The international challenge will come from double world champion and Olympic medallist Shane Perkins who heads the Australia sprint team that includes double junior world champion Jacob Schmid and emerging star Emerson Harwood.
New Zealand’s Commonwealth Games medallists Aaron Gate, Dylan Kennett, Marc Ryan and Pieter Bulling will compete in endurance events.
Another Olympic medallist back in action is Westley Gough, returning to the track after an injury - hit few months, who will compete against Glasgow medallists as well as his teenage cousin Regan Gough, who is a current double junior world champion.
Commonwealth Games riders Stephanie McKenzie, Lauren Ellis, Jaime Nielsen and Georgia Williams will all compete along with Otago’s Katie Schofield.
The Australian endurance squad is led by former world champion Ashlee Ankudinoff, who will be vying for their team’s omnium spot for Rio.
The morning sessions will run from 10am to 2pm, and finals sessions from 7pm to 10pm.
The programme is:
Avanti BikeNZ Classic, Thursday 18 September:
Morning Session 10am: Elite and Junior Women Sprint (Qualifying, Repechage, Round 1, Quarterfinals, 5th to 8th ride), Women and Men Omnium (Scratch Race), Junior and Elite Men Sprint (Qualifying, Repechage, Round 1, Quarterfinals, 5th to 8th ride), Junior Women Scratch Race.
Evening 7pm: Elite and Junior Women sprint (semis and finals), Elite and Junior Men sprint (semis and finals), Women and Men Omnium (Individual Pursuit and Elimination), Elite Men Points Race.
Friday 19 September, morning session 10am: Junior and Elite Women Keirin (qualifying and Repechage), Junior and Elite Men Keirin (qualifying and repechage), Women and Men Omnium (1000m Time Trial), Junior Men Scratch Race.
Evening Session 7pm: Junior and Elite Men Keirin (Semis and Finals), Junior and Elite Women Keirin (Semis and Finals), Men and Women Omnium (Flying Lap and Points Race), Elite Men Scratch Race, Elite Women Points Race, Men Madison.
Avanti BikeNZ Cup, Saturday 20 September:
Morning Session 10am: Junior and Elite Women Sprint (Qualifying, Repechage, Quarters, 5th to 8th ride), Junior and Elite Men Sprint (Qualifying, Repechage, Quarters, 5th to 8th ride), Elite women Scratch Race, Elite Men Points Race.
Evening Session 7pm: Junior and Elite Women Sprint (Semifinals, Finals), Junior and Elite Men Sprint (Semifinals, Final), Elite Men Scratch Race, Elite Women Points, Junior Men Scratch Race, Men Madison.